54.5% of this year is downloaded

Damn it, shitballs! Now (some of) the expletives I’m going to use are out…

This is turning out to be such a roller coaster year; I should just accept and own that I’m going to be a total, desperate wreck for the rest of the year. Put on my pj onesie, comb the mascara lekker dik (so they can bleed appropriately down my cheeks) and just not wash my hair again until I can smell 2018. Well… maybe that’s not such a good idea – by the time the first hint of 2018 rolls around the only thing I’ll be able to smell is my onesie and my hair… ew. I still have that little bit of self-respect, I’ll just stick to the onesie then. I’ve cried and laughed so many times this month – and usually these happen in the same day. Not in a truly happy or upset kind of way – my laughter is hysterical-manic and my crying is shoulder wrenching sobs from the depths of the abyss. Sure, I have reasons to cry – my boyfriend is on another continent, all of my friends are in other cities / countries and I’ve just realized my life is a purposeless cog in the wheel of mainstream cultural consumption. (Well, that last bit might just be a symptom of many other things…) Despair not, I have reasons to laugh too – I’m finally spending some quality time with my family after having been abroad for years, I am making friends here (slowly, but surely) and at least I’m employed.

I turned 30 earlier this year (angel: age is just a number; demon: you’re so close to death, you might as well pick out your cremation facility) and I honestly didn’t think it was a big deal until now – 4 months later. I still don’t think it’s a big deal, but my subconscious is definitely responding to the wrong conviction, because I was doodling a mini essay today, as I do; I began writing the sentence “I turned…” and promptly burst out crying. Granted, I had been sobbing earlier in the day too; this could’ve just been reflected misery, but that phrase definitely triggered something. Oh fuck. I am not going to be that person who reinvents their life, just because they blew out a whole cake-full of candles on their birthday (well, if I’d had a birthday cake, I would have – you can taste the self-pity can’t you). I can’t be that person; I just spent the last 6 years traveling, visiting the most amazing places, meeting the most interesting people and eating every weird thing I can buy with pesos, Taiwan dollars, or reais. Why would I despair of not having lived the life I “should’ve lived when I was younger”? I did!

I also refuse to believe that coming home made me depressed – I am loving seeing my family and though making new friends might be tough when you’re not in university anymore or in a big company, it’s not impossible. I mean… I believe that I’m a pleasant, well-adjusted (ahem) person who can have a decent amount of unawkward small talk over a glass of wine. Believe me, I checked this theory – for a week I was writing about how to have successful human interactions, because I wasn’t sure I was having any. (I think I’ll still write those…) I haven’t killed anybody, so that should at least count for something. My baseline is a really happy place and I though I’m always convinced I can be doing more, I am generally a satisfied, content person.

Then, of course, you get the one day where everything just falls apart – my phone won’t connect to wifi, a romantic interest is ghosting me (my bf and I are polyamorous) and even the blood bank won’t take my blood! For low blood pressure, of all things. My body clearly isn’t feeling my anxious vibes.

Not to go on and on about the negative; that’s not what this post is about – it’s actually an expression of how incredibly high and low this year is getting with such consistency and extremity, that I’m kind of looking around for that bar-seatbelt they pull down to hold you in your seat at an amusement park. I’m really enjoying my work and the people I work with. It’s a small office and after being here for a couple of months it sincerely seems like everyone gets along, it’s amazing. Before The Ghosting, Mr. Awesome was… well, awesome. Sensitive, incredible conversationalist and passionate about what he does. He had (has… I’m assuming he’s not dead; is he dead?) a contagious, warm smile and (I cringe before I write this, but I stand by it) the kindest eyes. He encouraged me to sign up for the martial arts classes I’ve been wanting to do for ages and this week I’m going to my first kickboxing class. This, too, is a high point in my year, together with the running club I’ve joined and the training I’m doing. For the first time in years I’m consistently waking up early, putting in a decent workout and feeling not just good about my health and myself, I’m feeling fantastic. I even got my hair cut, just to cement that feel-good jazz.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the year, because I honestly have no fucking idea where it’s going to go or how it’s going to end. Frankly, I just want to get it over with, as well, so I can get off this “Tunnel of Terror” and get onto the “Lazy Boats”; just for a little while.

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Book review: 1808 Flight of the Emperor

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1808: Flight of the Emperor Image by Laurentino Gomes on Wikipedia’s Creative Commons

I’m a sucker for a well-researched history book, especially one where it feels and “sounds” like the author is sharing all of his own passion and excitement for the topic with me. This is exactly how Laurentino Gomes’ 1808: Flight of the Emperor comes across and flies with his subject matter.

This was an incredibly interesting book to read – not only as a reflection of colonial Brazil (some of which is still so recognizable there today), but also as a reflection of European aristocracy and how very short the Portuguese model fell compared to the Golden Age of Europe’s French, Spanish and German royals, just to name a few. Of course in the early 19th century you couldn’t do everything right by our standards today, but some of their outrageous ways made me cringe and laugh just as much as I imagine the author did on finding these nuggets of not-so-appropriate-for-the-dinner-table information. For example, Gomes tells of how Portugal’s sewage system was so far inferior to the rest of European civilization, they actually still emptied their “night soil” and chamber pots from their windows (yes) directly into the street. Jeez. Another one that has stuck by me is how the Emperor (Dom) Joao not only refused to bathe, his tailors had to wait for him to go to sleep in order to repair the clothes he would likewise refuse to take off. Laurentino Gomes mentioned that there are a myriad more such stories that he didn’t have space to fit into this book… I don’t even dare to imagine.

Besides the Portuguese-Brazilian royal family, Gomes had a lot to say about the politics between England and France at the time, the state of labour and slavery in colonial Brazil as well as some trickle through effects that have shaped contemporary Brazilian culture and politics. Wow, all that in a non-fiction, conversational super-book. I loved every second of it.

Apparently others agreed – the book won 3 awards; one from the Academia das Letras and two Prêmio Jabuti awards.

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Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth

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The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I have finally gotten around to read the first of two books in the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follet; they were super popular and got great reviews at one stage. The two books themselves are quite extensive and from first glance they look like they have the potential for that “epic story” that many fantasy writers seem to manage. I’m still reading the second book, but they both focus on a town called Kingsbridge, in England, the site of a cathedral of some repute and revolving around the people who live there – from monks to merchants and from gentry to peasantry. Since I’m still busy reading the second book, this review only concerns the first book The Pillars of the Earth.

The story-line follows the building of the Kingsbridge cathedral, but first the book starts out in a very intriguing way – the hanging of a foreigner, the curse of a wronged woman and three powerful men fearful of what they had done. The significance of this opening impacts the story both on a superficial level (in that the woman becomes an important character) and on a layered level (in that secrets related to these events are revealed later on). However, the bulk of the story is a bit more down-to-earth: young romance, cruel nobility and sly clergy. In fact, the plot relied so heavily on these pop-culture tropes that I felt like I could guess at most new characters’ personalities even before they were introduced, just by their class description – the rich girl with curly brown hair is, of course, the sweetheart; the tall, handsome landowner is, wait for it, cruel and chauvinistic; and the poor, shy boy with red hair is, yep, an unappreciated genius. What’s more, the characters never changed, there was no development – they were born into the book a certain way and stayed that way for decades of plot. Nobody can boast that they are the same person, believe the same things or even talk the same all through their lives… but okay, maybe that’s difficult to write into a book without seeming too inconsistent… the characters just felt flat and unimaginative.

Honestly the story-line itself had the same feeling. Sure, all characters, good and bad, got a good dose of fortune and misfortune throughout, but the way it was administered was extremely predictable. Halfway into the book the recipe is terribly, consistently clear – the “good guys” win something, then lose something, the “bad guys” lose, then gain. It was like a rhyme you could recite “one for me, one for you, one for me…” and on and on, really, all the way to the end. Well, I finished the book not quite satisfied, but that’s life.

Then why am I reading the second book (World Without End), you may ask? The blurb promised more outside influence – plague, famine, war, prosperity. I’m almost halfway and there seems to be much more of a variety of characters, motivations and journeys. I’m hopeful. 🙂 Luckily you don’t need to read the first book in order to “get” the second. It plays out in the same town, around the same cathedral, but enough years have passed that the initial characters have very little influence on the plot and the context is completely new. Well, I wouldn’t say the first book was necessarily bad, but it was painfully average. Let’s see how the second one turns out 😉

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Dark Tourism

When you think about “travel” there is a specific image that pops into your head. Maybe a memory of the last trip you took; perhaps the one you’re planning now, even if it’s still just a dream. For me somehow it’s sunshine and lots of walking. Something that probably doesn’t crop up is the tragic side of history: the parts of exploration that expose the traveler to stories of individual heartache or mass grief. From the rolling head of unlucky monarchs to the ghostly echoes of a thousand footsteps over an ancient battlefield – these places attract attention as well as tourists just as surely as the romance of Paris or the symbol of hope of New York’s Statue of Liberty.

In fact, in the same city of Lady Liberty you’ll scratch the surface of what “Dark Tourism” is. Those who take a silent moment at Ground Zero are not only those who lost a loved one there, people from all over the world go there to commemorate and commiserate. For the same reason Auschwitz and Tienanmen Square are popular; in visiting and keeping these places and events in our collective memory, we may ward off the potential of it ever happening again. “We do not forget, so it doesn’t happen again” – as in the words of the group “No More Torture” (Tortura Nunca Mais) who protested during the fall of the Brazilian dictatorship. We are stewarding our human narrative and guarding our actions and hopefully the actions of our leaders from going so far astray again.

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Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 1988 Image by Derzsi Elekes Andor licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of what dark tourism means. Digging deeper, we find the popularity of haunted houses and abandoned theme parks with all of their accompanying stories of horror (whether real or fabricated). Ok… chalk these up to thrills and adrenaline; file these in the same category as roller coasters and bungee jumping. People have an illogical love of the extreme and inexplicable, because (ironically) it makes us feel alive. Even I peek into the dark windows of an empty, abandoned hospital on my way back from work every day.

Let’s examine this closer under the magnifying glass one more time and look at these places that truly carry the word “dark”. There are hundreds of Youtube videos about the “creepiest” places to visit as well as articles telling the sordid, bloody histories of anomalies of nature – serial killers. Far from leaving people only with the willies or a cold chill up the nape of your neck, there are hordes of travelers who pursue these places where the worst things have happened. Tourists enjoy Japan’s Aokigahara forest not only for it’s beautiful, verdant forestiness… this is where hundreds of people come each year to commit suicide in privacy and solitude (in 2003, official stats put the number at 105, according to the Aokigahara Forest website). Nothing altruistic is served by going to these places, in fact the Japanese have stopped releasing official numbers for how many people die in the forest for fear of encouraging others (according to the VICE special from 2012). I am not saying it’s not good visiting these places, or that people shouldn’t! If I had the chance, I would be there too… maybe not taking smiling selfies, but to check out a place with such a reputation? Sure. Other similar sites include the Czech Republic’s Sedlec Ossuary which is a World Heritage Site, and for what? The chapel is built out of 40 000 – 70 000 people’s skeletons and receives about 200 000 visitors annually. Then there’s the pre-Colombian city of Chichen Itza with its bloody history, built by the Mayans and where human sacrifice took place regularly at the Sacred Cenote, together with offerings of gold, just like in Disney’s Road to El Dorado (Chichen Itza receives 1.2 million visitors a year).

Traveling is a joy in and of itself and needs no justification, but I would think that people would choose to visit sunny beaches and high, green mountains over musty catacombs and dry, chalky chapels, but too each his own. It is interesting for me to see what other people find fascinating and it’s striking how people are riveted to the weird, the macabre and what’s on the periphery of disturbing sometimes.